Page 27 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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RIBALOW / SAUL BELLOW
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Book of Life), “More than anyone else, Bellow connected one
novel after another with a representative Jew in order to repre­
sent Jewish experience itself . . . without being detached and
‘impartial’ about the long Jewish struggle for survival, he is
fascinated and held by the texture o f Jewish experience as it
becomes, as it can become, the day-to-day life of people one has
created.” Kazin adds that Bellow was “to become the sternest
of Jewish moralists” and that “the vita lity of Bellow’s fiction
comes from the importance o f being a Jewish son. . . ”
Other perceptive critics, in discussing Bellow’s novels specifi­
cally, also have generalized on his Jewishness. In American Mod­
erns, Maxwell Geismar writes that “Saul Bellow is genuinely
concerned with, and even oppressed by, the moral values of his
heritage—that he suffers from them.” He also notes that Bellow
is a w riter “who has within him a deep and primary core of
Jewish feeling and of Biblical righteousness.”
Earl Rovit, in a brochure on Bellow, remarks that “whatever
demands Bellow assigns to his style, that style is almost always
under the controlling influence of a dominant oral tradition—
that of spoken or argued Yiddish.”
Bellow thus far has published eleven books. They are: Dan­
gling Man; The Victim; The Adventures of Augie March; Seize
the Day; Henderson the Rain King; Herzog; The Last Analysis
(a play); Mosby’s Memoirs and Other Stories; Mr. Sammler’s
Planet; Humboldt’s Gift and To Jerusalem and Back (his only
volume of non-fiction). Except for Henderson the Rain King,
all are overtly or peripherally Jewish. His major characters,
Tommy W ilhelm in Seize the Day; Asa Leventhal in The Vic­
tim (the non-Jew in this novel is also, in a way, a Jew); Augie
March, Moses Elkanah Herzog, A r tu r Sammler, Humboldt Flei-
sher and Charlie Citrine (in Humboldt’s G i f t ) , and Isaac Braun,
in “The Old System,” a neglected Bellow story, are all Jews.
Moreover, the stories themselves are peppered with observa­
tions, Yiddish and Hebrew phrases, images of nervous, neurotic
Jews that make it impossible for a reader to imagine these works
being written by any but a Jewish writer. For example, Herzog
is so hermetically Jewish that Richard L. Rubenstein, in an es­
say on the novel, points out that “Herzog’s world is exclusively
Jewish. There are almost no Gentile characters in the novel.”